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Child Sexual Assault Survivor Wants a New Supreme Court & New Law to Help Victims


Child sexual assault survivor Jessica Simpkins – who saw her multi-million dollar jury award slashed by a law subsequently upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court – called today for electing new justices, saying they should protect victims of crime, not prodators or their enablers.

A recording of the press conference is online here (Passcode:  l4F*n0Z=)

At age 15, Simpkins was twice assaulted by Brian Williams, the senior pastor at Sunbury Grace Brethren Church. A divided Ohio Supreme Court upheld a law which cut her non-economic damages to $250,000. 

“The jury listened to all the evidence and knew that the church had complaints of two prior victims concerning the pastor who raped me,’’ 

Simpkins told a Columbus news conference. “The jury decided I was entitled to $3.5 million in non-economic damages, but the court upheld a law which cut my damages. I want a court that cares about justice for child rape victims like me.’’

In a 3 to 2 decision written by Justice Judith French, the court ruled that the caps were constitutional even when applied to Simpkins. Justice Sharon Kennedy voted with French. Both French and Kennedy face re-election in November and their ruling has emerged as a key issue in this year’s court contests.

“This has to be one of the most heartless rulings in the court’s history. It shows an utter lack of empathy and integrity,” said ProgressOhio Managing Director Michael McGovern, who joined Simpkins at the news conference. “As a former police officer, Justice Kennedy should know how difficult it is to prosecute child sexual assault cases. She and Justice French also should know that sexual assault survivors face long and expensive recoveries.”

Simpkins’ lawyer, John Fitch, had argued that the damage caps were unconstitutional when applied to child rape survivors since they deprive them of the compensation needed to deal with a lifetime of mental and emotional trauma.

Simpkins’ case is final, but Fitch discussed another child rape case that is still on appeal in Cleveland.

“The rapist’s acts in the pending case are more vile and depraved than a normal human mind can imagine,’’ Fitch said.

The case centers on Amanda Brandt, who was 11 when she was repeatedly drugged and assaulted by Roy Pompa, the father of her childhood friend who videotaped his sexual assaults. When authorities raided Pompa’s home they found 3,000 pornographic images and 400 videos of children, including one showing an adult having sex with a 3-year-old child. Police identified at least eight of his victims ranging in age from 6 to 14.

“The court in the Simpkins case left open the possibility that there may be a case wherein the court would find the law unconstitutional,’’ Fitch explained. “On appeal, we have argued that the Brandt case should be that case.’’  

In addition to wanting a new court, Simpkins supports passage of House Bill 518, that would prevent all rape victims from being denied full compensation of their damages awarded by a jury.

Rep. Kristin Boggs, a Columbus Democrat, twice introduced the bill in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold limits on Simpkins’ jury award.

“I believe our laws should reflect our values,’’ Boggs said. “This legislature should be sending a clear message that it stands with survivors of the most gruesome violence, and that we do not support the court using our laws as a shield to deny survivors access to justice.”

A recording is available here:  (Passcode:  l4F*n0Z=)

Running against Justice French is 10th District County Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat and former Ohio Secretary of State.  Justice Kennedy’s opponent is Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell. Today, Republicans have a 5-to-2 advantage at the court. If Brunner and O’Donnell both win, Democrats will control it 4 to 3.